One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Summary and Analysis of Part Six

The Parcel House to Return to the Barracks pages 125-144:

Shukhov rushes to the parcels office, where a line of fifteen men, holding bags and sacks, has formed along the porch. The guards who open the parcels chop open boxes and pour liquid out of glass containers, and prisoners have to bring bags to carry the contents back in. Prisoners receiving parcels have to give away bits of it to lots of people, including the guard who opens it. Shukhov had received parcels from home while in Ust-Izhma but told his wife not to send him more and take food out of the kids' mouths. Still, whenever anyone in his barracks gets a parcel, he wishes one would come for him. Even so, he doesn't have time to remember his home in Temgenovo that much. While in line, Shukhov hears that there wasn't going to be a Sunday that week. In months with five Sundays, the authorities usually only give them three off from work. And even then, they find tasks - inventories, fixing and cleaning things - for the prisoners to do in camp.

The line moves slowly and trusties keep pushing their way in front. Finally Tsezar arrives when there are ten men ahead of Shukhov. He talks with another Muscovite who has received a recent newspaper before Shukhov interrupts him to say he is going and show him his place in line. Shukhov asks if he can bring Tsezar his dinner from the mess hall, which many prisoners do even though it's forbidden, and as Shukhov had hoped, Tsezar tells him he can eat it himself. Shukhov rushes off toward the mess hall. The camp commandant had issued an order that no individual prisoners were allowed to walk around camp on their own but instead needed to always be in groups of four or five, and at first, the guards had enforced it, but it gradually became impractical and ceased to be enforced. Shukhov stops at the barracks on his way and checks to see that no one has stolen his bread from his mattress and runs to the mess hall, where by another order of the commandant, prisoners are required to enter by twos.

The mess orderly is an enormous, lame man called "the Limper" who stands on the porch of the mess hall and hits men who try to sneak in at the wrong time with a big birch club. The mess chief, a fat man with a big head and broad shoulders, is also on the porch as Shukhov arrives looking for his squad. The Limper pushes a whole row of men back and onto the ground as they try to get on the porch. Shukhov spots Pavlo, leading the squad and must push through the angry crowd, swinging up on the porch and getting kicked and hit in the process in order to enter the mess hall with his squad.

Inside, Shukhov sets off without being asked to look for a tray. He spots S 208 carrying his last tray-load and asks for his tray when he's done, taking in and pushing away the man S 208 had promised it to at the counter. When Shukhov gets to Pavlo with the tray, young Gopchik, who will do all right for himself in a couple years, has taken a tray from two men who were arguing. At the counter, the cook ladles soup into ten bowls for Shukhov's tray, and Shukhov notes which bowls are just water and which are thicker. He brings them back to the table, angling the tray so the thicker stew is nearest his seat, and Kilgas arrives with the bread tray. The bread will be rationed according to the amount of work done that day and Shukhov gets 12 ounces in addition to Tsezar's six.

Shukhov claims one of the thick bowls by putting his spoon in it and helps Pavlo count and hand out the stew to the squad. Pavlo sits with his double helping and Shukhov with his two bowls, and they say nothing‹"the sacred moments had come." Shukhov first drinks the broth out of both bowls, filling himself with the warmth, and thinks of nothing, except that they will survive, they'll stick it out till it's over. Next, he tips the contents of his second bowl into his first and eats that - cabbage, broth, fish, a bit of potato - slowly. Today is a "red letter day" with two helpings at lunch and supper. He doesn't notice much as he eats except for an old man, U 81, from another squad who sits down across from him. Unlike most prisoners, this man doesn't slouch bit sits straight and doesn't bend towards his soup but brings the spoon up to his mouth. His skin is like carved stone and his hands are cracked and black from hard work, but he wraps his bread in a rag rather than placing it on the table and won't give in.

Shukhov finishes his supper and taking his bread with him for tomorrow, since he won't gain by stuffing himself today, and heads to Barracks 7 to buy tobacco from the Lett. In the past, he has paid one ruble for a glass of tobacco, which is actually less than you would pay on the outside. In Ust Izhma, he was paid at least thirty rubles a month for his work, but here he is not paid at all. If money is sent from home, prisoners can only spend it out of an account at the commissary once a month. Shukhov finds the Lett, lying on a bunk, talking to his neighbor. Shukhov and the Lett make small talk till everyone in the barracks stops paying attention to them.

The Lett lets Shukhov examine the tobacco and then measures some into a glass. Shukhov urges him to stuff it in rather than let it fall loosely, so that he will get enough. Shukhov pulls out two rubles he has sewn inside his coat and buys two glasses full of tobacco, which the Lett pours into Shukhov's pouch. Meanwhile, in the barracks, people argue about whether China's entrance into the Korean War means another World War and about Stalin. At Ust-Izhma, any mention of politics would land a prisoner in the guardhouse, but at this "special" camp, the security boys don't care.

Back in Barracks 9, Shukhov finds Tsezar sitting on his bunk with his new package. As he offers Tsezar his bread from dinner, he glances sideways at the package and sees that Tsezar has received sausage, condensed milk, smoked fish, salt pork, crackers, biscuits, lump sugar, butter, cigarettes, and pipe tobacco. Tsezar tells Shukhov, who knows better than to imply he wants something from the package, to keep the bread. Shukhov decides he is happy enough with the bread - his 12 ounces, Tsezar's 6 ounces, and at least 6 ounces from the morning. He decides to eat six then and still have a day's ration left, leaving the other bread in the mattress. Men who receive packages don't get to keep everything. They give a little to the guard, squad leader, trusty in the parcels office, the fellow at the place where they guard your package after you've gotten it, the bath attendant, the barber, the CED, the doctor if you want to play sick for a couple of days, and the neighbor you share a locker with. Shukhov knows not to expect what doesn't belong to him.


Solzhenitsyn makes effective use of understatement in this part of his novel. Rather than choose emotionally overblown language, Solzhenitsyn uses simple, factual statements and in doing so communicates the extreme effects of camp life on Shukhov and other prisoners. Rather than show Shukhov longing to be reunited with his wife and children and reminiscing about his time with them, he chooses the opposite path. Shukhov "had less and less cause to remember Temgenovo and his home there. Life in the camp wore him out from reveille to bedtime, with not a second for idle reflections." Shukhov accepts this fact and does not struggle against it. In that very acceptance, we see the effect the prison camps have had on Shukhov emotionally. They control him and other prisoners not only physically but emotionally, until prisoners cease to hope or imagine returning home.

Shukhov's acceptance of his gradual ceasing to remember home contrasts sharply with the actions he has taken in regard to his family. Even though "his heart ache[s]" for a package, he knows that sending packages to him for ten years of a sentence would be a burden on his wife and children. Even though it is easier to get food outside of the camps, he decides to sacrifice packages in order to ensure that his wife and children have enough food. Shukhov's insistence that he not be a burden on his family is extreme and definite. His refusal to allow his wife to send packages even once a year on Easter demonstrates that he has made this decision as a result of principle as well as practicality. In some ways, it is easier emotionally as well as financially for both him and his family to keep their connections to a minimum. Nonetheless, the aching heart Shukhov feels when he has not received a package is an emotional reaction to the division he has created between himself and a family's love, as represented by the package.

In Shukhov and his fellow prisoners, Solzhenitsyn creates a depiction of humanity in extremis. In their extreme situation, truths, emotions, and meanings become more pronounced. When a few ounces of bread can mean the difference between life and death, the deeper meanings of a person's actions because clearer. Therefore, the moment in which Shukhov eats his soup in the mess hall is not only relaxing but is one of "the sacred moments." At that moment, Shukhov is free to think only of himself and his fulfillment.

Shukhov's realization in the "sacred moment" of eating is profound and moving because of its simplicity. "We'll survive. We'll stick it out, God willing, till it's over." Shukhov does not hope for immediate release or an easy prison term but simply for survival. And yet, that belief that he can and will survive is incredibly important in the context under which Shukhov lives, in which ten days in the guardhouse with poor rations can make a man so sick he will never recover to be released. Survival is all that Shukhov can hope for, but it is exactly what he needs to believe in order to continue to exist in this environment.

Shukhov's survival is not survival at all costs but requires the survival of both body and spirit. In the camp, minor actions take on major significance as prisoners attempt to follow a moral code in an amoral environment and to maintain their human dignity. Shukhov's refusal to even mention the food package - and thus imply he wants something from it - is an example of an action designed to protect dignity. Similarly, prisoner U 81 exemplifies dignity in his behavior. Despite years of suffering and prison sentence upon prison sentence, this old man is dignified in both his actions - sitting straight, bringing his spoon up to his mouth, wrapping his bread in cloth rather than placing it on the table - and his appearance - heavily lined skin, hardened hands. Though his physical appearance - bald and without teeth - tells of the ravages of the prison system, it is clear that his dignity has survived intact. Thus, he is not an object of pity but of awe. He represents humanity's difficult struggle to overcome attempts to destroy it.

The Soviet authorities are again, in this section, represented at thieves of time. When Shukhov finds out that the prisoners will be forced to work on Sunday, he phrases it as an act of theft: "Again there wasn't going to be a Sunday this week; again they were going to steal one of their Sundays." The prisoners value their free time and see this time as something they own because its necessity in the extra work they do - trading, working, bribing - on their own to survive. The authorities are taking from them not only the opportunity to take a nap but the free time which defines them as men and which determines their physical and spiritual survival.

There appears to be a limit to the degree to which the authorities can control the prisoners, however. Unnecessary regulations that conflict with human nature seem to fail to succeed in the long run. For that reason, the guards do not completely - or sometimes at all - enforce regulations such as the carrying of firewood into camp or the requirement that men walk around in groups of four or five that help the prisoners to survive and do nothing to harm the camp. Though it is clear from regulations like these the commandant seeks to "rob them of their last shred of freedom," there seems to be a limit to the control these authorities can have. If we see the camp as a microcosm for the Soviet Union under Stalin and recognize these "flop" regulations have parallels in equally unrealistic and unenforceable laws, Solzhenitsyn's criticism of an entire political system and its flaws becomes much more pointed.

Twice in this part of the book, Solzhenitsyn sets up a contrast between the reader and Shukhov. Shukhov looks first at the old man in the mess hall and then at the stars in the sky over the camp and decides he has no time for reflection. Likewise, he earlier recognizes how little he thinks of his home. The reader differs from Shukhov because in reading the book, he is explicitly finding time for reflection. Part of the tragedy of the camp system on men like Shukhov is that it steals from them the time or energy to reflect upon their own fates. Thus Solzhenitsyn in effect urges the reader to do this act of reflection for them, to see the injustice of their situation, and to act.